But…if only they knew that they are being thrusted into the spotlight of becoming Catholic “rock stars”. Soon they will be paraded in and out, Sunday after Sunday, as they go to “break open the word”. On the First Sunday of Lent they will be brought to the local cathedral. Stories of their lives and faith journeys will be known within parish walls. At the Easter Vigil all eyes will be on them and to thunderous applause will be welcomed in the Sacraments of Initiation. Many parishes will have receptions for them following the Vigil where they will praised for their courage, how much more knowledgeable they are about Catholicism, how holier they are, etc.
If only the facts bore that out. A study by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life in 2011 found that Americans who have switched faiths or joined a faith are only slightly more religious in belief and behavior than those who remained in the faith of their childhood. For example, while 62% of non-converts say religion is very important to them, the number only rises to 69% among converts. Half of converts (51%) attend worship services at least once a week, compared with 44% of non-converts.
They will have their 15 minutes of Catholic fame. And then what? Despite the cottage industry that has grown around Catholic converts (programs on EWTN, books videos, and tapes sold on Amazon and Catholic websites) at the end of the day it turns out they are just the rest of us poor slugs, often maligned as the Cradle Catholic. We are not the rock stars of Catholicism. We are the ones baptized as infants and who in many eyes have become lazy and ignorant in our faith.
Well speaking for this Cradle Catholic, I plead guilty to all the above charges. But I would like to lay out my defense because I really do love converts and want you all to feel the Church is where you can grow in fullness with Jesus. I believe Cradle Catholics can teach you a few things about being Catholic:
More Accepting of Imperfections
When you grow up in a family, you tend to overlook a lot of things. Sometimes there are issues that definitely need to be addressed, but other times certain issues are just part of the human condition to be accepted as is. I think of Sunday Mass as Thanksgiving dinner every week. You have the individuals who love the holiday, the people who attend out of obligation, and those who would rather be anywhere else and every other combination in between. There are loud and the quiet, the intellectual and the obnoxious, the goodie-two-shoes and the goodtime girl or boy. Yet, somehow we are all united by our faith and we gather at the table to remember and share a meal . We know these people and while their actions can sometimes drive our crazy, we love them because they are part of the family.
Sloppiness Can Be Next to Godliness
We can be a very shabby looking bunch. We may not wear the big hats common in Afro-American churches and on Sundays in the fall t-shirts displaying football team loyalty abound. Our genuflections may not be graceful and our Sign of the Cross more closely resembles swatting flies away. For those of us raised by nuns, as adults we can finally rest our bums on the pews without fear of a whack on the behind to straighten up. Our liturgies are sometimes mundane with mumbling instead of praising aloud. Could we do better? Of course we could. But we are home and “home is,” according to Robert Frost “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Glory and honor is always due in God’s home but it is our house as well. One could say the church building is a taste of heaven. We better learn to be comfortable there if we’re going to be spending eternity in God’s presence.
Not Sweating the Small Stuff
Being a Catholic is overwhelming. A wise priest I heard on a retreat once said that if you tried to follow every devotion, novena, and pious practice with equal intensity your brain would eventually blow up. He’s right and I have seen it happen to so many converts. Read very closely: It is okay to fall asleep in the middle of your nightly rosary – what better way to fall asleep than with a “Hail Mary” on your lips and in your heart? Not every saint will be one you feel an affinity towards, and that’s all right. Adoration may not be what you need spiritually at this point, but working in a soup kitchen might bring out your charisms. No one is going to hell if the holy water fonts are empty on a particular Sunday or the cantor screws up the response or you forget to bow at the appropriate line in reciting the Nicene Creed. Life is full of unintentional mishaps and God has big shoulders. He can take it because he knows what is in our hearts.
No One Wants to Be More Catholic Than the Pope
Let’s get this straight from the beginning. Nobody likes a reformed smoker, drinker, or a know-it-all convert. If someone says you are more Catholic than the Pope, understand immediately this is not meant as a compliment. Despite what you might think or what you’ve been told by your RCIA teachers and even other parishioners Cradle Catholics DO know how to pray, have faith in God, can perform the corporal acts of mercy quite well without you showing us how to do it the correct way, thank you all very much. Now Cradle Catholics can use reminders and encouragement in their faith journey (as all people do), plus we prefer it without being harangued by people who are walking parrots of the catechism or worse have it as an app on their smartphone ready to pull it out to whip the rest of us into shape.
It’s in the Blood
Being Catholic is part of a faith tradition but it is also part of a cultural identity. There can be debates about whether this is a good thing, but the fact is, it is. In the U.S. Catholicism was and is still an immigrant religion. Assimilation really only began with the end of World War II and one could say triumphed in the election of John F Kennedy. The idea of a Catholic “ghetto” is hard one to let go of, even if that type of living ceased for most Catholics two generations ago. Perhaps this explains the popularity and fascination with huge cultural and ethnic feasts such as St. Anthony and St. Patrick. Somehow there is a pull and link with our ancestors who prayed and fought for their dignity and freedom in a frequently unwelcoming land.
As Cradle Catholics we have navigated this religion since childhood. We have survived the scandals and embarrassments, the public humiliations of hypocritical leadership, and the slings and arrows of prejudice. We have also navigated those dark nights of the soul – the lonely despair of our sick and dying, the injured spirits of those besieged by doubts, and the emptiness of those who have felt an alienation from God’s love because they could not live up to the ideals of the Church’s commandments. Yet, many still hang in there and wake up and go to bed with a prayer on their lips and faith in Jesus as their Savior in their hearts. We know how to live that faith when the last Easter lily has wilted and through the liturgical season of Ordinary Time.
We Cradle Catholics are a great bunch to get to know.
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